This paper considers the potential and the limitations of using approaches drawn from data science (often now associated with the term “big data”) in archaeological research. Following a brief review of data in archaeological research and the sociology of quantification, I examine whether using approaches drawn from big data might affect our understanding of the degree of change or continuity across the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age in Greece. The paper demonstrates that sorting a large amount of archaeological data does reveal apparently dramatic changes in the archaeological record across the Bronze to Iron Age transition, but many of these changes seem more attributable to the way that archaeological data are recorded and encoded than to change in past societies. I conclude that quantification and systematic analysis of archaeological evidence are most often useful because they can help researchers understand the structure and history of, and therefore some of the gaps and biases in, the archaeological record. Taken at face value, however, archaeological big data have as much potential to mislead as to enlighten if it is not wielded critically and with a strong sense of the human element involved in constructing datasets.
Tracing the manufacture and use of artefacts illuminates aspects of the society by which, and for which, they are made. The account of the different stages of this process, and the identities which the objects assume, has sometimes been called the ‘object biography’. This type of narrative has been used to consider antiquities and what they can reveal about the ancient world, but it often stops short of exploring how antiquities are understood in the modern world.
This chapter explores the collection history and life while in the museum of a chryselephantine figurine, bought as a genuine Minoan antiquity by the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, in 1931. The authenticity of the artefact has since been questioned, because of its unique appearance and lack of recorded excavation context, leading to the figurine being regarded by many as a fake manufactured in the early 20th century. However, the unresolved status of the artefact makes it ideal for exploring issues such as the practice of collecting and authenticating antiquities, and the creation of a demand for fake Minoan objects as a result of the excavations conducted by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos at the beginning of the 20th century.
The processes by which Athenian black- and red-figure vases were produced appear to be well understood, with text-books regularly offering succinct descriptions of levigation, the application of relief line, and the three-stage firing process. A number of aspects, however, remain hypothetical, and new analytical techniques can inform old questions. In 2011, with funding from the National Science Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum undertook a project to characterize Athenian black gloss. By partnering with The Aerospace Corporation, the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), and The Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS), we created a team which had a diverse range of interests and equipment, with a view to obtaining new and rigorously-tested data. Combining these analyses with replication studies, we documented the ways in which black gloss responded during firing. Some of the results have been published in scientific journals, but in order to share them more broadly, we present here a summary of three case-studies. Taken together, they indicate that the production of the vases may be more complex than the conventional notion of a single three-stage firing process (oxidation-reduction-oxidation) suggests.
This paper argues that fine glass dining vessels were prized aesthetic objects in the ancient Roman world. Where a post-Enlightenment bias against applied visual media has allowed these glass works to go under-treated, this paper re-examines this medium through a combined methodological approach of close visual and textual analysis. Drawing upon the possibilities afforded by the development of searchable online databases of Roman texts, the paper analyses not only surviving explicit discussions of glass works (which are few), but also foregrounds references to the medium that are made in passing. It thereby identifies aesthetic emphases that only appear in brief mentions of this material, but which transpire to focus very consistently upon the same visual values. As a result, the paper proposes that works of Roman glassware were explicitly appreciated for the aesthetic effects of light mediated by their surface, both within the compass of the glass, and in the wider space around it. This conclusion is then practically applied to surviving examples of Roman glass objects to explore the visual effects that ancient lighting would have produced. Arguing that the Roman world was highly sensitive to this material’s visual allure, the paper presents a new perspective on the medium, grounded in a distinctively Roman mode of aesthetic attentiveness to this art.
In this chapter, I examine the organisation of ancient labour and the energetics represented by architectural projects. The first section articulates a tripartite approach to restoring lost ancient manufacturing techniques. First, a close analysis of the ancient specimens is aimed at ‘reverse engineering’ the original production sequence. Second, a search for analogues in the ethnographic record provides a more complete sense of potential techniques and the structure of the workshop. Third, properly designed archaeological experiments not only clarify many uncertainties, but also raise new questions not previously considered by the researcher. Each approach provides complementary insights into the ancient chaîne opératoire and labour organisation.
The second section applies these methods to the terracotta Protokorinthian roof of an early Archaic temple from Korinthos. A general model for ancient tile and brick production drawn from ethnographic sources is enhanced by experimental replications of the tiles. After considering the acquisition of raw materials and the timing of production, I estimate the labour and crew responsible for the roof and consider the full ‘cost’ for the rest of the building. Although an important early foray into monumental architecture, the temple might have been completed in as little as a year and, in the end, represents a relatively modest investment.
‘Networks’ and ‘interconnectivity’ have changed 21st-century society, from the invention of the internet and international networks of corporate power, to global transport and infrastructure that enable human mobility on an unprecedented scale. People are increasingly aware of how commerce, power, and production connect the globe, and of the global implications of local events, decisions, or industries. Concurrently, ways of thinking about patterns of human behaviour and the spread of information, diseases, and fashions, are increasingly understood to result from interconnections – from networks.
Studies of the ancient Graeco-Roman Mediterranean are also beginning to acknowledge the influence of these developments, with a new wave of scholarship arguing for focus on the interconnections and relationships that form, or undermine, identities, social structures, and the spread of ideas. These studies make clear that relationships matter.
This chapter is divided into two parts. The first explores the ‘network paradigm’: different network methods and theories that have been used to study the material of the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean, drawing out the innovative results achieved, and the new questions raised. The second examines issues that arise when using network approaches, including the handicap of a patchy data record, and problems of categorisation and technical expertise. By exploring different ways that networks can be used to interpret material I show the enormous potential it holds for the study of Graeco-Roman material culture.
‘Object-Oriented Ontology’ and ‘Thing Theory’ situate objects within networks of relations in and through which they interact with other entities, thereby forming associations with real effects where objects and things are thus able to ‘voice’ their influence on the world around them in their own terms. This theoretical perspective opens new lines of enquiry in fields such as Classics since it recognises the function and capacity of objects in new or varied contexts. In this paper we first explore the relevance of Object-Oriented analysis for interpreting the material culture of the ancient world and, second, apply these theories to a specific context: material culture as it appears in Greco-Roman literary texts.
We analyse weaponry in the epic poetry of Homeros and Vergilius as material and enigmatical objects. Attunement to the materiality of these objects in literature allows scholars to perceive traces of the dynamic networks of agency, materiality, subjectivity, and representation in which ancient objects were situated.